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In search of grammaticalization in synchronic dialect data: general extenders in northeast England1


In this article, we draw on a socially stratified corpus of dialect data collected in northeast England to test recent proposals that grammaticalization processes are implicated in the synchronic variability of general extenders (GEs), i.e. phrase- or clause-final constructions such as and that and or something. Combining theoretical insights from the framework of grammaticalization with the empirical methods of variationist sociolinguistics, we operationalize key diagnostics of grammaticalization (syntagmatic length, decategorialization, semantic-pragmatic change) as independent factor groups in the quantitative analysis of GE variability. While multivariate analyses reveal rapid changes in apparent time to the social conditioning of some GE variants in our data, they do not reveal any evidence of systematic changes in the linguistic conditioning of variants in apparent time that would confirm an interpretation of ongoing grammaticalization. These results lead us to question Cheshire's (2007) recent hypothesis that GEs are grammaticalizing in contemporary varieties of British English. They additionally raise caveats with regard to the assumption that the linguistic conditioning of GE variability in contemporary data sets is the product of change.

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